Sunday, June 28, 2009

Deal on U.S. healthcare overhaul still uncertain

Deal on U.S. healthcare overhaul still uncertainBy Donna Smith
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama`s drive to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system may be back on track thanks to Senate efforts to cut the price tag to $1 trillion, but a bipartisan deal on the sweeping proposal still is far from certain.
Obama wants changes that rein in the escalating costs of healthcare in the United States and bring insurance to most of the 46 million Americans who currently lack it.
He also wants a bill that the Democrats who control Congress and the Republican minority can support to give a bipartisan stamp of approval to his top legislative priority.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus was upbeat last week after announcing that panel members had found ways to bring the price tag to about $1 trillion over 10 years, down from an earlier estimate of a staggering $1.6 trillion.
The new estimates helped move lawmakers closer to an agreement, Baucus said. But he was unable to close the deal with Republicans before senators left for a weeklong July 4 Independence Day holiday recess.
Instead, the core group of negotiators -- three Democrats and four Republicans -- issued a tepid statement on Thursday merely affirming their commitment to continue negotiations.
"As we have been for the last several weeks, we are committed to continuing our work toward a bipartisan bill that will lower costs and ensure quality, affordable care for every American," said the group, which includes Baucus and Senator Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the panel.
Soaring healthcare costs undermine the competitiveness of U.S. businesses, strain state and federal budgets and drive many Americans into bankruptcy.
The United States has the world`s most expensive healthcare system. Americans get coverage either through private insurance provided by employers or bought by individuals, or through government-run programs for the elderly, poor and others.
But millions remain uninsured and the United States lags many other industrialized nations in important health measures such as life expectancy and infant mortality.
The Finance Committee is one of five in the Senate and House of Representatives working on healthcare legislation, and may represent the best chance of obtaining a bipartisan bill.
"It is a very delicate process that Senator Baucus is trying to engineer," said Ron Pollack, executive director of the influential Families USA advocacy group.
A deal that includes Grassley would go a long way toward bringing other Republicans on board, he said.
But any compromises could end up alienating Democrats.  Continued...
Original article